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Home prices declined in November

U.S. home prices fell for a third straight month in nearly all cities tracked by a major index. The declines show that most homeowners are not reaping the benefits from some signs of an improving housing market.

Prices dropped in November from October in 18 of the 20 cities tracked, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index released Tuesday. The steepest declines were in Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. Phoenix was the only city to show an increase.

The declines partly reflect the typical fall slowdown after the peak buying season.

Still, prices fell in 18 of the 20 cities in November compared with the same month in 2010. Only Washington and Detroit posted year-over-year increases.

Prices in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle and Tampa dropped to their lowest points since the housing crisis began. And prices have fallen 33 percent nationwide since the housing bust, to 2003 levels.

"The trend is down, and there are few, if any, signs in the numbers that a turning point is close at hand," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the S&P's index committee.

Buffalo is not included among the 20 cities in the index. According to statistics from the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors, the average home price in Western New York fell less than 1 percent to $131,068 in November from October, while the median price fell 4.3 percent to $111,700.

The Case-Shiller index covers half of all U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The November data is the latest available.

Among other improvements needed:

*The supply of homes for sale must decline further. The inventory fell in November to a seven-month supply, although a healthy supply is about six months.

*More than a million homes at risk of foreclosure must be cleared from the market.

*Banks must further loosen lending requirements.